Small is GREAT VIII | The Secret to Business Success in Japan

Written by Sterling Content
January 28, 2016

Written by Sterling Content
January 28, 2016

Launched in 2011, BCCJ Small is GREAT (SiG) events are aimed at creating an open platform for SMEs and entrepreneurs to build networks and leverage success stories in the Japan market

On January 28, 2016, BCCJ entrepreneur members came to hear Paul Christie, CEO of Walk Japan, share his experiences of building up a firm in Japan over 20 years, and gain insights into his alternative approach to doing business – in what is a notoriously challenging and domestic market.

Pioneering and Adapting

Christie opened the session by describing his company as an “adventure”. Beginning in 1992 with the innovative and best-selling Nakasendo Way tour, Walk Japan was the first tour company to successfully introduce the real Japan, geographically and culturally, that often remains inaccessible for most visitors to the country.

Originally a small student tour programme founded by two academics, the company has grown over twenty years and now offers over 150 exclusive tours a year, supports local businesses and plays a significant role in the revival of small farming communities in rural Japan. Christie reflects that it has been “a long journey of small steps along new paths – learning, adapting, growing, and revising – but it has always been a rewarding and enjoyable one.”

Passion and quality

The transition of the company over time from an academic pursuit to an enterprise has also required considerable dedication and attention to maintaining standards and quality. Christie admits that he is incredibly passionate about his work and that he only wants the best. Only tours that the team themselves enjoy are introduced to the programme, and detailed attention is paid to the quality of service. A lot of intense work goes into the creation of a perfect product. As Christie says, “I don’t let things go … tours often exceed customer expectations”. In an industry with such stiff competition, high standards are the key to success.

Sharing and collaborating

Many interesting questions were posed in the question and answer session regarding core business values. Christie highlighted the importance of meticulous planning and adaptability in business. Walk Japan’s tours, he said, “are a living thing with some tours taking up to three years in gestation”. Mistakes may be made along the way, but as the Japanese proverb goes, “shippai wa seikou no moto” (mistakes are the source of success).

Emphasising that Walk Japan is a very “human business”, Christie explained the necessity of recognising the business as “a complete experience” with respect for cultural understanding and exchange between the company, the customers, and their partners. A successful company culture must be an inclusive one with everyone pulling together to achieve results.

Good relationships, sharing and collaborating, the speaker said, are the essence of a strong and reliable company. “Combining western business ideas with the Japanese group spirit” is a recipe for success, and problems can always be fixed more efficiently as a team.

Another piece of sound advice was showing “a gentleness with bureaucracy”. The numerous rules and regulations in Japan may sometimes be infuriating, but the clue is to “work with them rather than against them.”


Walk Japan aims not only to provide interest, attractiveness, and efficiency to its customers, but also to its employees. The continued nurturing and development of personal relationships with customers, staff, and partners in an environment of trust and exchange results in high retention rates and job satisfaction. “It’s a lifestyle choice”, said Christie, “business has to be enjoyable and the way to do that is to solve problems together”.

Christie concluded with the message that with success comes responsibility. Companies, he says, should provide examples of what is possible. Doing business should not just be about making profit; “it is about marrying one’s interests as a business with responsibility to wider society.”

At the end of the talk, members had time to reflect on the insights they had gained and to discuss ideas with fellow entrepreneurs and pioneers. The inspiring evening was enjoyed by all.

For more information about Walk Japan tours, visit the website:


Event photos on the BCCJ Flickr page HERE